- Observatory: EurWORK
- Health and well-being at work,
- Working conditions,
- Published on: 20 July 2010
Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.
The issue of absence from work was discussed before the economic crisis developed in Latvia. Statistics indicate that the number of sickness absence cases has been growing, as are sick-leave costs. The dialogue between the social partners and government has led to changes in Cabinet rules, reducing the period of paid sick days in an effort to cut the budget deficit. Presenteeism is becoming more of a significant issue in Latvia due to higher unemployment levels.
Definitions and aims of study
Absence from work is frequently discussed in terms of its costs. The costs were outlined in a report published by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in 1997 – Preventing absenteeism at the workplace. Since that time – as many reports of the European Working Conditions Observatory (EWCO) and of the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) note – it has become an issue in many countries; one approach has been to try to reduce the costs by tightening rules on sick pay.
In addition to a focus on costs, sickness absence has been connected to wider debates on the quality of work in two main respects. Firstly, there is growing interest in well-being and health at work. Attention has thus turned to positive ways in which well-being can be promoted, with improved attendance being a possible consequence. Secondly, the concept of ‘presenteeism’ – meaning being present at work while feeling ill or being unable to work at normal capacity – has emerged. Presenteeism may mean that measured absence levels are low but also that there are hidden stresses and pressures on employees.
The purpose of this comparative study is to provide an overview of the extent of absence from work and policies for its management, and to place this overview in the context of wider debates on well-being and presenteeism. The report assesses the current picture in terms of the level of absence and how the problem is treated – purely in terms of cost or in relation to the quality of work. It also examines the effect of the economic recession on levels of absence and how the problem is viewed.
Absence is defined as non-attendance at work when attendance was scheduled or clearly expected. The specific focus is a period of absence lasting longer than three days; the comparative analysis seeks information on this level absence but recognises that data may not always be available.
The study has two main themes: the extent and patterns of absence, together with any trends; and the means of control and policies towards absence.
Extent and patterns of absence
1. Broad patterns
Where data are sought on the extent of absence, please use if possible the definition given in the briefing note. If available data do not distinguish between absence lasting longer than three days and all absences, please provide the closest available figure.
(a) Please describe the main data sources for absence from work at national level. How are the data collected and how is absence defined? Are the data broken down according to the length of absences? Which spells of absence are taken into consideration (e.g. three to 19 days and 20 days or more)?
Sickness absence from work is regulated by Latvian legislation – in particular, the Act on Compulsory Social Insurance in Respect of Accidents at Work and Occupational Diseases (2 November 1995).
According to the law (Chapter 5), sickness benefit will be paid to an insured person for a period not exceeding 26 calendar weeks, if sickness is continuous in this period, or for 52 calendar weeks in three years, if sickness has recurred repeatedly. If the recovery period of ability to work lasts longer than 26 calendar weeks for an insured person, the decision to seek further medical treatment (not longer than 52 weeks) for such a person has to be made by the medical commission.
(b) Please state the average overall current level of absence either in terms of % of working time lost or number of working days a year. What has been the trend over the past five years?
According to statistics from the State Social Insurance Agency (Valsts sociālās apdrošināšanas aģentūra, VSAA), in 2008 sickness benefits were paid for 551,000 working days a month (absence form work), while maternity benefits were paid for 164,000 working days a month. Calculations show that average working time loss per employed person amount to about 0.09% of total working time.
There has been a significant decrease in sick leave benefits since 2004 – this is attributed to increased economic activity and employment levels after the country’s accession to the European Union. In 2004, an average of 373,000 working days a month were covered by sickness benefits. In the same year, average losses of working time per employed person in the national economy totalled 0.24% (author’s calculations based on employment statistics in Latvia (2004 and 2008) and average paid sick-leave period in economy).
(c) Please provide a breakdown of absence by gender. What has been the trend over the past five years?
There is no official breakdown available in terms of gender. An indirect picture can be built based on statistical information about new occupational diseases. In 2008, there were 989 new patients registered, 59% of whom were women; in 2007, some 776 new patients were registered, 52% of whom were women. A similar picture regarding new occupational patients is evident for 2004: of the 687 occupational disease patients registered for the first time, 57% of them were women. However, absence from work includes maternity and childcare leave. Detailed information about female or male dominance in aggregate absence statistics is not available.
(d) Please provide a breakdown of absence by age groups (if possible, according to the following age groups: 15–29, 30–49 and 50 years). What has been the trend over the past five years?
Statistical data according to age are not available. However, from the perspective of occupational disease, in 2008 the largest group of patients registered were those aged 55–64 years, while the second largest group were those aged 45–54 years. The tendency is similar for previous years: in 2004, most of the new patients with occupational diseases were aged 55–64 years or 45–54 years.
(e) Please provide any available estimates for the proportion of the total volume of absence a year due to short (3-19 days’ duration) spells and long-term absences (20 days or more). Have there been any changes in the prevalence of short-term and long-term levels of absence over the past five years?
The available statistics refer to the year 2005. According to a report on the improvement of short-term disability examination in the state, prepared by the Ministry of Health (Veselības Ministrija) (2007), the most frequent duration of absence (32%) was 3–4 weeks; a further 22% of absences lasted 2–3 weeks, while 10% had a duration of 4–5 weeks.
(f) Please give the level of absence in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees, compared with large organisations.
There is no such statistical information on SMEs. However, of the new occupational patients registered, 47% of them worked in SMEs in 2004, while 45% did so in 2008.
(g) Please provide the latest figures on level of absence by activity sectors.
According to the information provided by the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (Latvijas Statistika), there are no official statistical data on absence from work by sector of economic activity. This kind of information is not provided by other sources – neither by the State Labour Inspectorate (Valsts Darba Inspekcija, VDI) nor by the VSAA.
2. Causes of absence
(a) Please describe the main causes of absence as identified in national surveys. Are there differences according to gender, company size or sector of economic activity?
The aforementioned national-level report on the improvement of short-term disability examination in the state (available only in Latvian) indicates the main causes of hospital treatment out of 1,000 economically active persons in 2005: accordingly, maternity leave or a period of childcare accounted for 31% of cases, injuries, toxicities and other external factors for 23% of cases, and mental disorders for a further 23% of cases.
There is no national-level information available on the causes of absence from work in recent years by gender, sector of economic activity or company size.
(b) Please indicate the main occupational diseases and occupational injuries or accidents responsible for absence from work. Please identify and offer explanations for any changes that have occurred over the past five years.
According to Latvian legislation (Cabinet Regulation No.152 of 3 April 2001), sick-leave certificates are provided to employees in the following cases:
for diseases (including occupational disease) or trauma (including an accident at work) associated with the loss of the ability to work;
if medical treatment or preventive medical assistance is required;
if isolation during quarantine is required;
if medical treatment for the rehabilitation of work ability is required during recovery after a disease (trauma);
for persons taking care of an ill child up to the age of 14 years;
during pregnancy and maternity leave.
There are no precise and detailed statistics available on absence from work. However, the VDI provides statistical data on occupational diseases.
In the first half of 2009, there were 700 cases of occupational diseases registered in Latvia, compared with 417 cases in 2004. Some 48% of the persons with occupational diseases were aged 55–64 years and 34% were aged 45–54 years. According to the Professional classification of the Republic of Latvia, the largest proportion of occupational diseases (242 cases or 35%) were registered in the group ‘Plant and machine operators and assemblers’. Of these 242 cases, 156 were registered in the subgroup ‘Drivers and mobile plant operators’.
The next largest group of persons with occupational diseases according to the aforementioned classification comprised ‘Craft and related trades workers’ – this group accounted for 146 cases registered in the first half of 2009 (21% of total occupational diseases). Of these 146 cases, 68 (47%) were registered for metal, machinery and related trades workers.
The third largest group according to the classification was ‘Technicians and associate professionals’ – this group accounted for 85 cases registered in the first half of 2009. Of these, 53 occupational disease cases were registered for the group ‘Life science and health associate professionals’.
According to the statistics, the most frequent diseases are those relating to external physical and biomechanical factors, which accounted for some 267 cases (33% of total) in the first half of 2009. In 2008, the main groups of professional diseases were: skeleton and muscular tissue diseases (47% of total), after-effects of injuries, poisoning and diseases caused by other external influences (18%), along with diseases of the nervous system (18%).
Overall sick-leave trends at workplaces are presented in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Number of new occupational patients and newly reported occupational diseases in Latvia per 100,000 workers, 2004–2008
Source: VDI, 2008, p. 17
In 2008, the number of new registered patients with occupational diseases was 989 in Latvia. The highest number of patients with occupational diseases was registered in manufacturing (327), transport and storage (186), and health and social care (163).
In 2008, some 33% of total occupational diseases were registered in manufacturing: the largest proportion of employees worked in the:
manufacture of wood and wood products – 70 out of total 327 cases in manufacturing;
manufacture of food products – 64 cases;
manufacture of textiles – 53 cases;
manufacture of wearing apparel – 33 cases.
Occupational diseases in transport and storage sector were concentrated among workers in land transport and transport via pipelines (157 cases). Some 133 cases of occupational diseases were found among workers in the health sector in 2008.
According to information from the Ministry of Health, the most frequent length of sickness absence in the period 2000–2006 was 2–4 weeks, representing 54% of total cases registered.
Please refer to the definition of presenteeism: ‘being present at work while feeling ill or being unable to work at normal capacity’. What data are available on its extent?
For example, a Dutch study asked employees, ‘during the last 12 months, did it happen that you went to work, even when you thought you should report sick?’ Almost two thirds of respondents replied in the affirmative. Please report on any data available in surveys of working conditions, presenting the wording of the questions used.
Experts from the VDI estimate that presenteeism is a significant issue from the perspective of budget expenditure. In practice, an employee sometimes has a sick-leave certificate and is still present at work. Such practices lead to an increase in the amount of social insurance benefits and the shadow economy. However, the issue of presenteeism is not discussed from the employee side: often, the working conditions in SMEs do not allow absence from work due to the large levels of unemployment, as a result of which employees are afraid that they will lose their job and income. It is necessary to emphasise that this issue is not discussed officially or at national level.
Costs and policies
4. Costs of absence
Are there estimates or studies on costs of absence from work? Please provide available information on:
a) Figures for costs of absence from work for employers. Please summarise how the data are collected, how costs are compiled (what is included in the costs and concrete data) and measured (e.g. costs of absence as a percentage of company production or as a percentage of GDP for the whole country).
Labour cost statistics show increased sickness absence costs: the average sick-leave costs amounted to €29 million in 2005, €57 million in 2007 and €65 million in 2008. This can be explained by the rise in average income, on the one hand, and the increase in maternity leave cases on the other. According to the Law on Maternity and Sickness Insurance (21 December 1995), maternity benefit is paid in the amount of 100% of the average contribution wage, which is calculated on the basis of a six-month income period (or 12 months for self-employed persons).
According to a report on the reduction of sick-leave absence paid by the employer – prepared by the Ministry of Economics (Ekonomikas ministrija, EM) for amendments to the Law on Maternity and Sickness Insurance (2008) – the average costs due to absence from work (sick-leave cases) amounts to between 1.3% and 4.7 % of total labour costs in manufacturing and increases the average social insurance contributions by about 1.03%.
Calculations based on statistical data of the Central Statistical Bureau show lower average employee sickness costs: the average costs were 0.7% in 2005 and 2008. In manufacturing, the average sickness costs contribute to 0.6% to 1.4 % of total labour costs in this sector.
b) Figures for costs of absence from work for the social security system. Please summarise how the data are collected, how costs are compiled (what is included in the costs and concrete data) and measured (e.g. costs of absence as a percentage of social security expenditure).
There are no official statistical data regarding the costs of absence from work for the social security system. According to data from the VSAA, there is aggregate information on disability, maternity and sickness budget expenditure in Latvia.
Overall, the expenses for disability, maternity and sickness totalled LVL 365.4 million (€520 million) in 2009 and LVL 310.6 million (€442 million) in 2008, compared with LVL 179.4 million (€255 million) in 2007. Such increases can be explained mainly by the increased amount of maternity benefits and sickness benefits. Average sickness benefit increased by 35% in 2008 and by 30% in 2009. The average expenses for financing accidents at work totalled LVL 9.3 million (€13 million) in 2008.
Statistics provided by the VSAA show an increasing amount and average volume of sickness benefits since 2004 (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Average volume and amount (in €) of sickness benefits in Latvia, 2004–2009
Source: VSAA, 2009
5. National and company measures
(a) Please outline any recent measures at national level intended to reduce the costs of absence through positive policies. An example would be changed social security rules on sick pay. Are any specific actions or measures directed at long-term absence?
In its Action Plan to Improve the Business Environment for 2008 (325Kb MS Word doc), the Ministry of Economics highlights the necessity to improve the country’s sick-leave certificate repayment procedure. The main objective of this reform is to reduce labour force expenses by decreasing the number of days that are paid by the employer in the case of illness. Under Latvian legislation, the employer currently pays ‘sick-pay’ for 10 days of illness from the first day of absence due to sickness; from the 11th day, however, sickness allowance is paid by the state. According to the legislation, since 2009 the longest sick-leave period is 26 weeks (if the sickness period continues within 26 weeks) or 52 weeks, and it has to be based on a decision by the medical commission (if sickness recurs repeatedly). The reduction of the abovementioned sick-leave period is justified by the need to cut budget expenditure due to the economic downturn.
(b) What are companies doing to reduce overall absence from work (e.g. attendance incentives or bonuses)? Are sickness prevention plans elaborated? If so, how are elected employee representatives involved in these plans (e.g. through involvement in their design and implementation, or through being informed about them)? Please illustrate with up to three examples.
(c) Do companies have any specific policies directed at long-term absence? What is done to encourage the reintegration into work of the long-term sick? Is work redesigned to meet the needs of employees?
There is no information about such specific policies at company level.
6. Well-being at work
(a) Is the concept of well-being at work a feature of debates in your country? Which are the most relevant initiatives in this area, for example in relation to redesigning work to encourage attendance or to promote the health of employees? What are the objectives of such initiatives? How far do they aim to reduce absence levels, and is there any evidence of any reductions? Please provide up to three examples.
Health and safety regulations are obligatory for enterprises under Latvian legislation, which prescribes the necessary level of safety, the health measures that should be provided by employers, as well as the social guaranties to be provided by employers and/or the state in the event of absence from work. However, measures directed at well-being at work are not very well-developed in Latvia thus far.
(b) To what extent do policies on the management of absence and on well-being engage elected employee representatives? At what stage are representatives involved?
There is no information available on such policies.
(c) Please summarise the policy position of social partners and, if relevant, other representative bodies on the management of absence, attendance and well-being at work.
The minimum necessary measures required to guarantee employees’ well-being at work are prescribed in the country’s legislation – that is, under the safety rules and health insurance regulations. The management of absence became an important issue during the period of rapid economic growth – particularly as there were reports of abuse of sickness absence by employees so that they could get paid for time off from work. In general, the employers’ position on absence from work is often focused on the falsity of sick-leave certificates and the higher labour cost burden. To date, this issue has not been discussed at national level.
Please provide an assessment of national debates about absence. What is the balance between controlling high levels of absence, on the one hand, and promoting health and a positive work environment, on the other?
At present, the issue of absence from work is not widely discussed in Latvia. Moreover, there are no detailed official statistical data available on the causes of absence, or absence from work by sector, gender and company size. Presenteeism at work is not discussed at national level, but this issue is more important now due to the high unemployment level and high possibility of job loss in case of sickness. Historically, the dialogue between the social partners in Latvia regarding absence from work was based on questions regarding budget revenue/expenditure, on the one hand, and business costs on another (high social tax burden). For example, the debate about increased employers’ costs due to the rise in the amount of sick-leave certificates between 2000 and 2006 has led to amendments in legislation. The social partners and government have agreed to reduce the period of paid sick days. The dialogue began in 2005, and subsequently in 2007 the social partners and government reached a consensus on the repayment order of sick-leave certificates. Related changes in legislation came into force in 2009, when the Latvian government accepted amendments in the 2009 state budget and reduced the average sickness period paid by the employer and state. The aim of such government policy was to bring about necessary cuts in budget expenditure to help reduce the budget deficit.
Ministry of Economics, Action Plan to Improve the Business Environment for 2008 (325Kb MS Word doc), Riga, 2008.
Ministry of Economics, Report on reduction of a sick-leave period paid by employer, Prepared by Ministry of Economics for amendments to Law on Maternity and Sickness Insurance, Riga, 2008.
Ministry of Health, Informative report on improvement of short-term disability examination in the state, Riga, 2007.
State Labour Inspectorate (VDI), Annual Reports 2004–2009, VDI, 2009.
State Labour Inspectorate (VDI), Report to International Labour Organization about 2008 Activity Results of State Labour Inspectorate (201Kb), Riga, 2009.
Irina Curkina and Andrejs Berdnikovs, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences